Four out of five multi-property owners told Havre City Council Tuesday night they opposed what could become the city’s vacant property registry ordinance.
“I don’t know if this if this is the right thing. To me it feels wrong,” Jeff Ralph said.
Ralph owns McDonald’s on First Street and other properties in Havre, including the Simon Pepin house on Third Street and Fourth Avenue, which he’s been renovating.
Caleb Hutchins, a member of the Vacant Properties Ad-Hoc Committee, presented the first draft of a VPRO during Tuesday’s meeting.
It has been nearly two years since the vacant properties committee was put together and began researching how best to wipe away some of Havre’s blight. The draft includes five sections: purpose, definitions, vacant building registration, fees, and exemptions.
The proposed VPRO concerned most property owners and investors who commented.
Ralph told Hutchins that just the possibility of a VPRO has already deterred him from buying property he’d been eyeing. Ralph also believes there are already enough ordinances and laws in place to accomplish what the VPRO is supposed to.
A repeated sentiment among property owners was that the exceptions in the VPRO would probably not be good enough. Kurt Johnson, Brad Lotton, and Debi Rhines expressed the same concern: Renovation projects cost money and take time– a VPRO,
Lotton of Lotton Construction said he and other fellow property owners were, indeed, working on their projects, “just not quickly,” adding that the ordinance would just add more government bureaucracy.
Havre’s Public Works director, Dave Peterson, also voiced concerns, mainly with how to pay a VPRO enforcement officer.
The potential money made from fees would probably not be enough to support a
Enforcing the VPRO would not be like enforcing a weed ordinance. Judging by the five-part draft, it would be a more involved job. Who’s doing that job and where is that money coming from? Peterson asked.
Hutchins said there were between 12 to 24 properties that would certainly fit the definition of a vacant property, most of which are known and would not require much work to uncover and define.
Not all the property owners were displeased with the VPRO.
Marc Whitacre, who bought and renovated The 305 building and Havre Historic Post Office (and also happens to be on the vacant properties committee) said the VPRO would nudge owners to repair their properties faster, or if they can’t or don’t want to, it would prompt people to sell to someone who could and would do exactly that.
He asked the council to think of what downtown would look like if his two buildings had remained vacant.
Whitacre commented later that the difference between
Another proponent of the VPRO, Samantha Clawson-Hutchins, said she lives very close to a dilapidated, vacant property (she was referring to the derelict 12-unit gray apartments on Fifth Avenue). In addition to the blight, which devalues the homes nearby, there are safety concerns with such properties, she added. Clawson-Hutchins played a vital role in spearheading what led to the vacant properties committee in April 2017,
Hutchins wants to address the concerns he heard Tuesday night and move forward.
“I plan on talking to some of the property owners who had concerns or suggestions,” Hutchins said. “I’ll probably end up making some amendments to the exemptions section, and I’ll bring it back to the ordinance committee in the near future.”
If the next draft passes the VPRO committee, it would then go to the city attorney for vetting. And if there are no legal concerns, it would go before the council. The council would have two readings and there would be two opportunities for public comment.
If the council votes in favor of the VPRO, it would go into the effect.